A clash between robots and workers is unlikely. Rather, disruptive technology can make workers more efficient without replacing them, and raise profits, while maintaining or increasing a company’s workforce.

©OECD

The digital economy is here, and growing every day, sometimes in surprising ways. As ministers gather for major meetings in Paris and Cancun, government leaders should be in no doubt about the key role they must play in securing the digital economy’s future as a driver of productive and inclusive progress.

Pepper the humanoid robot, at OECD Forum 2016 ©Rory Clarke/OECD Observer

To many workers, the words “digital technologies” may evoke one simple, dismaying image: a human-like robot sitting at their desk, doing the work that they used to do! This anxiety is not different from the fear of coachmen witnessing the diffusion of cars in the 1920s. In a sense, coachmen were right: cars did replace horse coaches. However, their children and grand-children found new and often better paid jobs in the wealth of new activities made necessary or possible by cars: automobile manufacturing, car repair, travelling sales, home delivery, mass tourism, road building, the petrol business, and so on.

The Internet is now an essential part of our lives and a critical element of the world economy. Internet penetration increased almost sevenfold in the past 15 years, from 6.5% of the world population in 2000 to 43% in 2015.

©Rights reserved

Digital innovation is an opportunity—for governments, for business, for the public, and for the way in which they relate to each other.

Advanced economies remain in the doldrums. People’s incomes are rising at a very low pace, especially in the lower half of the distribution. Two global trends–the slowdown in productivity and the rise in inequality–reflect the state of policy, and point to the challenges policymakers face to change prospects for their citizens and the global economy.

This year’s OECD Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM), chaired by Chile, is devoted to productivity. Ministers will discuss what governments, firms and individuals can do to improve productivity with the aim of fostering inclusive growth. Their views will no doubt be nourished by public discussions at the annual OECD Forum, which precedes the MCM. The purpose of enhancing productivity should be to make economies grow faster and in a smarter way, while simultaneously decreasing inequalities and allowing everyone to be part of the productive system. The final goal is to improve the well-being of our citizens, providing people with better tools to meet their job requirements and to reach their full potential. This is a main challenge of our time, when the key drivers of growth and well-being will come from capital-based knowledge.

If there is a silver lining to the 2008 financial crisis, it is that it was a catalyst for the unprecedented progress we have made in building robust international tax standards for the interconnected global economy of the 21st century.

The world has seen more than one industrial revolution and another one is already upon us. We should face it as optimists.

Creeping protectionism is alive and well. Last year’s monitoring report on trade for the G20 reminded us that of the nearly 1,500 trade-restrictive measures imposed by G20 countries since 2008, fewer than 400 have been removed. The stock of these barriers continues to grow, despite a pledge by the G20 to reduce protectionism. Not surprisingly, given this context, a recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) report concludes that the risks to the international trading system and to trade flows more generally “are tilted to the downside.”

This year’s OECD Forum coincides with the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, which was an important milestone to promote gender equality worldwide. Much has been achieved since 1995, but unfortunately, a lot remains to be done to close the gender gap and increase women’s participation in our economies and societies.

Charlotte Moreau

Algorithms lie at the heart of machine learning, which, in turn lies at the heart of much of modern life–from online shopping to intelligence gathering. But most of us know little about these powerful tools and how they work. Is this wise?

Santiago de Chile alobos Life, on Flickr

For Chile, it is a great honour and opportunity to chair the 2016 OECD Ministerial Council Meeting. It is an opportunity to cele­brate Chile’s first five years as a member of the OECD and is yet another demonstration of the increasing relevance of emerg­ing and developing economies, which today account for more than half of world GDP. It is also a way to influence the OECD agenda from the perspective of a group of prosperous, but still unequal, countries.

©AFP

When it comes to global wealth inequality, we know how bad it’s getting, but what do we know about who is responsible? When Oxfam reports that 1% of the world population owns more than the other 99% put together, the question arises: who or what is making the rich so much richer, and the poor so much poorer?

The UK’s tallest mountain is Ben Nevis in Scotland. Recently, it became one metre taller, standing now at 1 345m rather than 1 344m above sea level. Of course, the mountain did not actually grow. Rather, the team of Ordnance Survey experts who re-measured it for the first time since 1949 were able to do so more accurately because of improvements in technology, and specifically through the use of GPS.

©David Rooney

Reconciling work and family commitments is a challenge in every country, but particularly for Japanese men and women. Much more so than in most other OECD countries, men and women have to choose between babies and bosses: men choose bosses, women less so, but on the whole there are very few babies and there is too little female employment. These shortcomings are increasingly coming to the fore and will have to be addressed.

Aileen's Wave west of Ireland ©George Karbus Photography/AFP

The recession in Ireland was long and deep, but has been followed by a marked recovery. Why is the expansion in Ireland so strong?

©Adrian Dennis/AFP

If a British referendum on European Union membership scheduled for 23 June led the UK to leave the EU, there would be a severe negative shock to the economy, causing growth to weaken for many years,  an OECD study argues.

©serprix.com

Time was when the only people who had gigs were long-haired types who stayed in bed till noon and played in bars till dawn. These days, it seems, everyone’s hopping from one gig to another–drivers, software designers, cleaners. Bye-bye full-time work, hello freedom and flexibility. Well, maybe…

Only a fine performance: Actress Judy Davis in the 1979 film adaptation of My Brilliant Career © AFP/Kobal/The Picture Desk

“I am only a woman!” declares Sybylla Melvyn with deliberate irony, in the Australian classic novel, My Brilliant Career. When Miles Franklin wrote the novel in 1901, aged just 19, she was embarking on her own career path, and though successful, like Sybylla, she encountered many social, economic and cultural hurdles along the way.

©Cathal McNaughton/REUTERS

©OECD

When I launched the OECD’s 2011 Economic Survey of Ireland, the Irish economy was in the depths of a deep recession. Two years ago, the clouds were beginning to clear. Today, I am delighted to see how far and how quickly the country has bounced back.

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Since the economic crisis, productivity growth in OECD countries has continued to slow. Labour productivity rose by 3.7% in OECD countries from 2007 to 2013, and even fell in some countries, such as the Netherlands and the UK (see graph). A Bank of France study reported in this magazine in 2014 showed an “impressive slowdown” in developed countries’ productivity growth since the start of the 2000s, and illustrates the ebbs and flows of US, euro area, Japanese, and UK productivity from 1890 to 2012.

Click to enlarge

Ireland has well-known firms such as Guinness for beer and beverages, Ryanair for air travel, and Smurfit Kappa for paper and packaging, not to mention dairies, beef and fish. However, for a small country that has turned itself into a thriving pharmaceutical and IT hub, Ireland is not awash with global brands in these sectors. Compare with, say, Finland which has Nokia, or Sweden which has Ericsson. True, there is Airtricity, but that innovative wind energy firm now belongs to an overseas company.

The economic and financial crisis has posed a stern test of many countries, though in Ireland, which enjoyed a boom for over a decade, the challenge was particularly stark. The scars are still there, but so are opportunities. Well-targeted, sensitive social policies can yield positive results. 

For all the signs of improving labour market conditions in many OECD countries, there is still a substantial way to go to close the jobs gap caused by the Great Recession of 2008-09. Unemployment will continue to fall in most countries, but by the end of 2017, it will still be well above pre-crisis levels in a number of them. 

Cathríona Hallahan, Managing Director, Microsoft Ireland ©Rights reserved

Ireland has bounced back from the crisis to become one of the OECD’s most dynamic economies. A key help has been the continued inflow of capital investment from abroad, allowing the country to bolster its position as a European hub for the likes of IT, finance, pharmaceuticals, engineering, and more. Ireland has been an attractive destination for global high-value investments for decades, yet its own innovation system lags that of other similar-sized OECD countries. Closing the gap would strengthen the country’s long-term outlook, but how can this be done?

A decade or so ago e-commerce was a buzzword, but today it has become a routine part of life. Or has it? About half of individuals in OECD countries bought products online in 2014, up from 31% in 2007. The increase in online purchases was particularly marked in Belgium, Estonia, France, the Slovak Republic and Switzerland. Today, more than three-quarters of adults order online in Denmark, Norway and the UK. However, only 10% of adults bought online in Chile and Turkey, and less than 5% in Colombia and Mexico. 

©TUAC

A structural shift to a low-carbon economy will entail gains in jobs, but also losses, and the first jobs to be lost are not those that you think. A just energy transition will be needed, but how? 

He’s lifting the lid ©REUTERS/Paul Darrow

Achieving the transition to a low-carbon economy to meet the 2ºC target requires shifting investment away from carbon-intensive options and towards low-carbon, climate-resilient infrastructure assets and technology. Over US$90 trillion will be needed in the next 15 years to meet global infrastructure needs across transport, energy and water systems, irrespective of climate change, according to the Global Commission on Climate and the Economy. But as the commission estimates, making these infrastructure investments “low-carbon” will impose additional costs of only 4.5% relative to business-as-usual, with benefits such as reduced local air pollution, improved energy security and lower traffic congestion. 

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